SEC: Gators-Gamecocks 111409

Imperfect Gators enjoying the ride

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The last time Florida coach Urban Meyer turned on his computer was sometime before the Tennessee game back in September.

It was his way of getting away from the distractions, or as he calls it, the outside stuff.

There’s been plenty of it, too, going all the way back to January.

Concussions. Fines. Verbal jousting with Lane Kiffin. Players caught on tape trying to eye-gouge opponents.

“If I want to know what’s going on in the world, I ask my wife, ‘How’s it going?’” Meyer said. “I do not turn my computer on. I think some of our players have taken that from our staff, too. We’ve got our face pointed right in the right direction.

“We have plenty to work on. We don’t have time to be worrying about what else is going on.”

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainTim Tebow led the Florida Gators to four straight Gamecock conquests.
What’s going on, to quote the late, great Marvin Gaye, is that the No. 1 Gators are inching, plodding, grinding (whatever you want to call it) toward a chance to play for their second straight national championship.

Every team has an identity, a personality.

This team’s identity, quite simply, is just getting it done.

“We always want to play our greatest game,” Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We struggled a little bit today. But when one side of the ball struggles, the other side steps it up.

“That’s how a team works; at least this team.”

Florida got it done in the fourth quarter Saturday thanks to defensive end Justin Trattou’s game-changing interception and navigated its way out of Williams-Brice Stadium with a 24-14 win over South Carolina, which fought its guts out defensively, but met an all-too-familiar fate this time of the year.

The Gamecocks have now lost three in a row and are in danger of a third consecutive late-season collapse unless they can knock off Clemson in two weeks.

As for the Gators, their work in the SEC is done. They’re 8-0, only the 12th team in SEC history to go 8-0.

And while even the Gators are the first to admit they’re not playing pristine football, they’re playing winning football.

When you’re No. 1 in the BCS standings at this point in the season, that’s all that matters.

“We did not play perfect,” Meyer said. “I’m not sure we have played perfect in quite a while, but I think that’s 20 [wins] in a row, and I’m awful proud of those young guys in there.”

All that’s left now for Florida before its showdown with Alabama in the SEC championship game is Florida International at home next week and then Florida State at home in the regular-season finale on Nov. 28.

Barring anything unforeseen these last couple of weeks, the Alabama-Florida game on Dec. 5 in Atlanta will be a play-in game for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game for the second year in a row.

What the Gators have tried to do, at least ever since the Mississippi State game three weeks ago, is enjoy the ride a little more.

That’s been Meyer’s message to his team: Play hard. Play together. Don’t worry about pleasing anyone outside that locker room.

“There’s no point in being 10-0 if you don’t take the opportunity to live in the moment and enjoy it,” Dunlap said. “You only get to live it once.”

Florida junior cornerback Joe Haden said this team has done a better job of keeping everything in perspective after a clear-the-air meeting following the Mississippi State game.

“You could tell in the locker room today,” Haden said. “Even though we didn’t win by as much as we thought we should, this was the best locker room after a win so far this season. We just have that confidence about us.

“It doesn’t matter if the other team has it on the 1-yard line, the 2-yard line, wherever. We feel like the next play is our play.”

And, yet, the perfectionist in Meyer grimaces when he thinks about what the Gators aren’t doing.

In short, they’re still not getting much in the way of a downfield passing game, at least not consistently. There were two deep balls, in particular, that just missed to Riley Cooper. That’s after he opened the game Saturday with a 68-yard touchdown catch.

“I’m so tired of seeing balls go off fingertips,” Meyer said. “We all know what’s coming down the road, and we have to make those.”

Still, there’s something to be said for the plays the Gators are making.

“We found a way to win that game as opposed to not finding a way to win that game,” said Meyer, who in moving to 32-8 in SEC games (.800) became the winningest coach in SEC history among coaches with a minimum of five years experience.

“In '07, we found a way to lose a couple of those games. In '08, we found a way to win them, and in '09, we’re finding a way to win them.”

And enjoying the ride, too.

This time, it's Trattou's turn for Gators

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- This time, it wasn’t Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez or even Joe Haden.

Nope, the guy who turned this game in Florida’s favor -- in what’s becoming vintage Gator football 2009 -- was a guy that some weren’t even sure would be able to make it through the season.
[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Brett FlashnickThe Florida defense held Steve Spurrier's offense to 247 yards, forcing three turnovers in the process.

Junior defensive end Justin Trattou had his biceps tendon ripped off the bone in his left shoulder in the Arkansas game back on Oct. 17.

There was some concern that he might be done for the season, and if he did come back, there was no guarantee that he would be able to tolerate the pain.

“He had an injury that many people, when it happened, said was a four, five or six-week injury,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “But he called me and said, ‘I’m going to play (two weeks later) against Georgia.

“We have some guys on our team who have that kind of mentality. Obviously, Tim (Tebow) gets a lot of recognition, but we have a bunch of guys on our team who are fighting through injuries and playing very well.

Trattou’s prognosis was right.

He ended up missing just one game, and it’s a good thing for the Gators that he was on the field Saturday. His interception and 53-yard return on the first play of the fourth quarter changed the entire complexion of the game and sent the Gators on their way to a 24-14 win over South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“It was a tremendous play. It will go down in history and should go in some book somewhere,” Meyer said.

And, really, it’s the kind of play championship teams make. The Gators were clinging to a 17-14 lead to open the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks were threatening with a third-and-3 at the 22, and the crowd was sensing upset.

The Gators, though, were sensing that it was time to make a play.

“That’s what we do,” Trattou said. “We put it on each other to make a play. We expect to make those plays. It’s usually somebody different every week. We’ve been doing it all year, and we’ve got to continue doing it.”

The pain associated with his injury isn’t nearly as bad as it once was, but even right after it happened, Trattou never once considered taking any lengthy time away from the game for it to fully heal.

“The only thing that was going to keep me out was surgery,” Trattou said. “If it was a matter of dealing with a little pain here and there, that wasn’t going to keep me out.”

When the ball was thrown Saturday, Trattou was actually on the ground. He’d been cut block by one of the Gamecocks’ offensive linemen, but saw the ball bounce off South Carolina receiver Moe Brown’s hands up into the air.

It looked like it was in slow motion.

“I got back up, and there it was,” Trattou said. “I thought I was going to score, but I stumbled.”

He was finally tackled at the South Carolina 26, and four plays later, Tebow vaulted in for the touchdown to make it a 10-point lead.

At that point, it might as well have been 40 points.

“That was the dagger,” Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “The interception was one thing, but the return helped the most. He was running like he was getting chased by a dog.”

Torn biceps tendon and all.

Video: Florida Postgame Analysis

November, 14, 2009

Chris Low analyzes Florida’s 24-14 win at South Carolina.

Final: Florida 24, South Carolina 14

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- There were some warts on offense -- some of the same ones we've seen all season -- but No. 1 Florida plodded a step closer Saturday to a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.

The Gators (10-0, 8-0) broke open a close game in the fourth quarter with a huge defensive play to hold off South Carolina 24-14 at Williams-Brice Stadium. Defensive lineman Justin Trattou intercepted a deflected pass off South Carolina receiver Moe Brown and returned it 53 yards to set up the clinching touchdown.

South Carolina's defense kept the Gamecocks in the game, but Trattou's interception and return in the early minutes of the fourth quarter was the back-breaker for Steve Spurrier's club.

Florida's defense was dominant in the fourth quarter, but the offense again had its hiccups. Place-kicker Caleb Sturgis also missed three field goals for the Gators, who are now finished with SEC play and have Florida International and Florida State the next two weeks.

The Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5) have now lost three straight games. They're off next week before facing Clemson in the regular-season finale on Nov. 28.

Florida's defense taking over

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Florida's defense is teeing off right now, and at this rate, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia might need a week in the whirlpool.

The Gators' pass rush has taken over the game, with Garcia being sacked on three of four plays over two straight possessions.

With a comfortable lead, an already dominant Florida defense becomes lethal.

Another fourth-quarter game for Gators

November, 14, 2009
Just like the Mississippi State game three weeks ago, Florida finds itself in another fourth-quarter game on the road.

Nothing's been real easy for the Gators this season.

But when they get in trouble, they turn to their defense. That's been their calling card all season. Justin Trattou's deflected interception of a Stephen Garcia pass and 53-yard return with the Gamecocks threatening took the wind completely out of Williams-Brice Stadium ... and maybe the Gamecocks.

Norwood delivers for Gamecocks

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood had been pretty quiet the last few weeks, but he came up big on fourth-and-1.

Norwood stuffed Gators quarterback Tim Tebow with the Gators going for it on fourth down just inside the South Carolina 30.

The longer the Gamecocks keep making plays on defense like that and keep hanging around, the more the pressure mounts on Florida in this one.

Florida has twice not been able to take advantage of great field position in the second half thanks to special-teams play, which is the kind of thing that comes back to get you in a game like this.

South Carolina's defense hanging in there

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Despite the field being flipped thanks to a poor decision in specials teams by freshman return man Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina's defense held again.

The Gators have moved the ball and hit some big plays in this game, but the Gamecocks have held in there defensively and come up with critical stops. The key has been getting Tim Tebow in more third-and-long situations than he's comfortable with.

Other than the early touchdown pass to Riley Cooper, the Gators once again haven't had much of a downfield passing game.

Nixon gets the start for Gators

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- True freshman Xavier Nixon started at left offensive tackle Saturday for Florida, becoming the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Gators since Reggie Green in 1992.

Florida moved Carl Johnson inside to left guard. The Gators felt like they were best last season up front when Johnson was playing inside at guard.

Nixon has gone against South Carolina pass-rushing specialist Eric Norwood several times in the first half and held his own.

Halftime analysis: Florida 17, S. Carolina 14

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- No. 1 Florida took a 17-14 lead over South Carolina into the half Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: The Gamecocks drove 65 yards in the final minutes of the second quarter, capped by tight end Weslye Saunders' 9-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone to shrink a 10-point Florida lead down to three at the half. Quarterback Stephen Garcia made a terrific move on the play to get away from the Florida pressure and find Saunders for the touchdown.

Stat of the half: The Gators moved inside the red zone on their second scoring possession of the game, but had to settle for a field goal. They’ve only scored touchdowns in 19 of their 44 trips inside the 20-yard line this season.

Best call: South Carolina called for a fake punt on its initial possession of the game, and punter Spencer Lanning completed the pass into Florida territory for a first down. The play was called back by an illegal shift penalty, but the Gamecocks set the tone right off the bat that they were playing to win and were going to play aggressively.

Another red zone bust for Gators

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- What is it about Florida and the red zone this season?

You wonder if it's starting to become mental now. The Gators had to settle for a Caleb Sturgis' 32-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter after after failing on third-and-4 from the 15.

Florida ranked 111th in the country coming into the game in terms of scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. The Gators have now converted just 19 touchdowns in 44 trips inside the 20-yard line this season (44.2 percent). That's way off from what they did a year ago when they were scoring touchdowns inside the red zone at a 75 percent clip.

More injuries for South Carolina's defense

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's defense can't get a break on the injury front.

Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram went down earlier in the Florida game, but was able to return. Cliff Matthews came in for a few plays, but the Gamecocks hope to use him only sparingly. He's still battling a shoulder injury he suffered a couple of weeks ago against Tennessee.

So far, Clifton Geathers has shown up for the Gamecocks and gotten some pressure on Tim Tebow. Geathers will be a key component for South Carolina if it's going to stay in this game.

Gamecocks can't avoid mistakes

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- How fitting is it that South Carolina successfully fakes a punt on its first possession against Florida only to have it called back?

It's been the story of South Carolina's season. The Gamecocks have killed themselves with mistakes and penalties all season.

On this one, punter Spencer Lanning throws a nice pass to get South Carolina into Florida territory, but the Gamecocks are flagged for an illegal shift penalty.

The Gators made them pay, too. Tim Tebow hit Riley Cooper with a long touchdown pass on the ensuing possession for a quick 7-0 lead.

Haden: Pressure off for the Gators

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Perched at No. 1 in the BCS standings, Florida is in a position now where all the Gators need to do is win.

It really doesn’t matter how they win. If they win out, they’re going to be playing for their second straight national title.

The final stretch of that road starts later Saturday against South Carolina, and junior cornerback Joe Haden has noticed a difference in the way the Gators have gone about their business ever since the Mississippi State win three weeks ago.

“Everybody sort of expected us to be perfect,” Haden said. “If we score 30 points, then we should have scored 50. If we score 50 points, we should have scored 70. It was never good enough. I think a lot of people out there are looking at style points. We’re just looking at trying to win every game.”

Haden said Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes probably put too much pressure on themselves early in the season.

But a pull-no-punches, clear-the-air meeting following the Mississippi State game put everybody on the same page.

“After that Mississippi State game, we had a talk, and really, it was good for the whole team, but especially for Tebow and Spikes,” Haden said. “They know now they don’t have to do it all, and I feel like that meeting took a lot of pressure off them.

“Everybody’s in this together, and we need to keep the outside on the outside and make this a family thing.”

Gamecocks shorthanded on defense

November, 14, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Injuries haven't been kind to South Carolina's defenses this season, and the Gamecocks will be without redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Taylor on Saturday against Florida.

Taylor injured his sternum and won't be able to play in the game, which means the Gamecocks will have to slide 280-pound tackle Melvin Ingram outside to play some at end.

Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews hopes to be able to play some Saturday after injuring his shoulder two weeks ago against Tennessee. The Gamecocks need Matthews on the field. He's one of their best defenders. The plan is for him to go through warmups and see how he responds.

If Matthews comes through warmups OK, the Gamecocks are going to try and play him on passing downs.

The Gamecocks will also probably give freshman DeVonte Holloman more time at strong safety, maybe splitting reps with Darian Stewart, who's coming off a rough performance last week at Arkansas.